Just hours before the start of the 2020 NRL season, officials have sent all clubs advice and guidelines amid the global pandemic caused by coronavirus.
While the season will go ahead as planned, players have been advised to outlaw some major elements of fan interaction, as the NRL brace for the possibility of playing in front of empty stadiums because of the coronavirus.
On Thursday afternoon, the NRL issued the following instructions to teams for game days:
– Players should avoid handshakes and other close contact with the general public, including pre-and post-match on the field. Players to consider clapping or acknowledging fans from the touchline as an alternative
– Take reasonable steps to avoid contact with fans as players enter and exit the field
– Replace pre and post-match handshakes with alternatives
– Steer clear of selfies, and avoid taking items (pens etc) directly from the general public to sign
– Avoid non-essential gatherings with fans or the general public as far as reasonably possible
In addition to these guidelines, while travelling, clubs have been told the following:
– They must carry a personal hand sanitiser
– Avoid general public contact at airports
– Inform hotels of their travelling requirements
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Bankwest Stadium is set to host the 2020 season opener on Thursday night, with 24,000 expected to watch Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels. For those in attendance, the interaction with NRL players may be very different to previous games, as major sporting organisations and leagues take action over the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidelines from the NRL instruct clubs, their staff and players to avoid contact with fans, to ban selfies, and not take pens for autographs. NRL players will be permitted to do victory laps on the field to thank fans but they must uphold the aforementioned restrictions.
NRL officials dictated to clubs that there will be restricted access to locker rooms, with only essential staff allowed in change rooms, and family members only to be permitted upon the clubs’ discretion.
The NRL have also told clubs to “limit” their visits to schools, hospitals and other community appearances.
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The document went out moments before the NBA made the decision to suspend their league after a player tested positive to the virus. A number of sporting matches around the world have also been played behind closed doors. Thursday’s document included no such details on when those measures could or would be implemented.
It came after the Sydney Roosters revealed earlier this week they had stopped shaking hands at the club as a health measure.
It was revealed on Thursday that some Melbourne Storm employees are already working from home as the club looks to protect players from the pandemic.
Melbourne are on high alert when a fan at a recent Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby match tested positive after attending a match at their shared home ground AAMI Park.
“It’s obviously concerning and there’s some things we’ve done around the club so far,” said coach Craig Bellamy on Thursday.
“Obviously the health of our players is paramount so that’s our No.1 priority so the more precautions that we take that can lower the percentage of them catching anything … we’re certainly taking some.
“Basically it’s business as usual for the team as far as training but some staff in the office are working from home.”
Sporting codes around the globe are forming contingency plans should health authorities and governments ban large gatherings of people, with some already playing in empty stadiums.
Bellamy said it would be bizarre for NRL players but he backed the move if necessary.
“You couldn’t imagine that here (Melbourne) – I think I might have played a bit of juniors at home and there weren’t many there when it was snowing,” he said.
“That’s going to be really strange for everyone, and especially players and I wouldn’t like to see that happen but if that’s the best thing so be it.”